LAWSUIT: Trece gang attorney sues Ogden and Weber County

Monday , June 23, 2014 - 9:13 PM

By MORGAN BRIESMASTER
Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN -- Attorney Michael Studebaker has filed a suit against Weber County and the Ogden Police Department for financial damages on behalf of those accused of being members of the Trece street gang.

The class action lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, accuses authorities of stripping alleged gang members of their civil rights.

“They weren't gang members,” Studebaker said. “At best, they knew people affiliated with the gang. It’s just preposterous.”

In 2010, alleged members of the Trece gang were served restraining orders, restricting them from associating with one another in public. Several of those served claimed it violated their due process rights. The Utah Supreme Court later overturned the injunction.

Likewise, Studebaker claims his clients named in the injunctions were withheld their constitutional rights.

Monday’s lawsuit states that nearly 400 individuals had loose associations, but are not themselves Trece gang members and do not commit any gang-related crime.

Some were with “801” tattoos, associated with the gang. Others know and occasionally associate with alleged members, as noted in the lawsuit.

One man was served with the injunction while incarcerated. He could not defend himself, thus hindering his family relationships, as it is stated in the lawsuit.

“A key part to this is that the people who are alleged were never given notice about being a gang member,” said Studebaker, who based the lawsuit off a California Supreme Court case.

More than a decade ago, California’s Ninth Circuit Court authorized particular law enforcement technique when dealing with criminal street gangs. Thus, the prosecutor must present “clear and convincing” evidence of a gang before the court can invoke its injunction powers. “So the federal court of appeals is basically ruling in our favor,” he said.

“No hearing before a Court of competent jurisdiction is held to determine if these persons are in fact gang members,” Studebaker wrote in the lawsuit.

Ogden, specifically, requires any individual to meet two of seven criteria before being deemed a gang member, Studebaker said, adding that two law information officers decided who were Trece gang members.

"What’s intriguing is that it’s just up to the two and depends on the mood of the officers,“ he said.

Based on the belief that his clients were without constitutional rights, Studebaker is seeking damages for the accused actions. “We’re seeking class certification,” Studebaker told the Standard-Examiner, hoping the now defendant is held responsible and his clients receive their rewards.

Officials with the Weber County Attorney’s Office and Ogden Police Department were not available for comment.

“These plaintiffs were wrongfully enjoined,” he said. “Their rights were curtailed.” Studebaker believes the plaintiffs meet the requirements of the federal class action, Rule 23.

“It’s absolutely insane,” Studebaker said. “No justice, not at all.”

Weber County attorney, Dee Smith, was not available to comment.

Contact reporter Morgan Briesmaster at 801-625-4268 or mbriesmaster@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @SE_mbriesmaster. Like her Facebook page at http://facebook.com/SEMorganBriesmaster

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